Antarctica is Greening

deschampsia antarctica
Deschampsia antarctica is one of two flowering plants native to Antarctica.

One of the places where climate changes are most clearly felt is Antarctica. Flower growth in this region is unfortunately accelerating due to the warming climate. The fact that plants grow in that region also means that the ongoing ecosystem chain is negatively affected. There are only two flowering plants native to Antarctica. Both saw a boom in their numbers in the decade from 2009 to 2019. In a sense, we can say "Antarctica is Greening".

Plants in Antarctica are growing faster due to climate change, which could pose a potential tipping point for the region's changing ecosystem. Scientists have already observed increased plant growth due to climate warming in the northern hemisphere, but this is the first change recorded in southern Antarctica.

Nicoletta Cannone of the University of Insubria in Italy and colleagues measured the growth of Deschampsia antarctica and Colobanthus Quitensis, only two native flowering plants of Antarctica, at a series of sites on the Island of Signy from 2009 to 2019.

The researchers then compared their observations to surveys from the previous 50 years. They found that the sites where the plants are located are not only densely populated by them, but also grow faster each year as the climate warms.

Deschampsia has grown over the 1960-year period, as it did in the 2009 years from 50 to 10. Another plant, Colobanthus, grew five times as much during the same periods.

British Antarctic Survey “The newest feature of this is not the idea that something is growing faster, but rather that growth seems to be accelerating,” says team member Peter Convey. "We almost think we're starting to see something like a change of pace or a tipping point."

Matthew Davey of the Scottish Marine Science Association in Oban, England, agrees that "accelerated expansion is now clearly visible in the region".

“This research gives us the first comprehensive dataset to show how quickly and how intensely the plant community can expand,” he says.

Antarctic Seals
Antarctic Seals

While other factors, such as dwindling fur seal populations, have positively impacted plant growth, the link with warming climate is clear, Cannone says.

The increase in temperature may also allow invasive species to colonize and grow native plants.

Such an effect had already been observed in the Alpine regions before. Again, this negative impact is one that can destabilize local ecosystems and biodiversity.

“A similar process could occur if we extrapolate what we observed on the Isle of Signy to other regions in Antarctica,” Cannone says. “This means that the Antarctic landscape and biodiversity can change rapidly.”

Source: New Scientist

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